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Rights Groups Urge Rohani To Drop Justice Minister In Second Term

Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi (file photo)

Eleven human rights and media freedom groups have called on Iranian President Hassan Rohani not to reappoint Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, whom rights advocates have accused of involvement in the killings of dissidents in 1988.

In an appeal to Rohani on July 20, the organizations said that "considering Pourmohammadi’s record, renewing him in his position does not reflect the promises you made and the trust many voters have placed in you."

"Ahead of your upcoming second term that begins on August 5, we call upon you to appoint a new Minister of Justice with a proven commitment to the principles of human rights," said the statement from the groups, which included Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New Haven, Connecticut-based Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and the London-based Small Media.

The executions were carried out in the last days of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, following a fatwa by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. According to some reports, more than 5,000 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), leftist groups, students, and others were executed in the span of a few months.

Pourmohammadi was the Intelligence Ministry's representative on one of the three-member committees in charge of interrogating political prisoners prior to the 1988 executions. The committee, dubbed the "death commission," questioned prisoners who had already been sentenced to prison about their political and religious beliefs.

According to survivors and other accounts, prisoners were asked questions such as "Do you pray?", "Are you willing to go to the war front and fight the Iraqis?", and "Do you recant your beliefs?" Those who gave unsatisfactory answers faced execution.

Call For Investigation

In their appeal to Rohani, the rights groups also called on his government to investigate the allegations against Pourmohammadi "in a serious manner."

“With Pourmahammadi serving as the Minister of Justice, it is hard to imagine that an impartial and transparent investigation can be led by the administration,” the statement said.

Pourmohammadi has been also accused of involvement in the killings of several dissidents in 1988, blamed by Tehran on "rogue agents" of the Intelligence Ministry.

Rohani, a relative moderate, won a second five-year term by a wide margin in a May 19 election.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani (file photo)
Iranian President Hassan Rohani (file photo)

During the campaign, he criticized his hard-line rival Ebrahim Raisi, who has served in senior positions in the judiciary, over past killings and executions of dissidents. Human rights and opposition groups say that Raisi condemned many political opponents and opposition activists to death in the 1980s.

In a May campaign speech, Rohani said that voters did not want someone who in the four decades since Iran's revolution has only known how to "execute and jail.”

Rohani has also faced pressure to appoint women to his cabinet.

On July 20, 175 lawmakers called on the Iranian president to appoint "competent and capable women" to his cabinet as ministers.

With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari
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